Comparative Literature Program - Course Descriptions


Fall Quarter

Dept Course No and Title Instructor
Over the last several decades, the Digital Revolution has changed the way we produce and practice culture, which is increasingly run through software. Com Lit 10 traces the development of literature, visual arts, and popular culture in the digital world to ask a) how do we make sense of our experience in the world and b) how do we represent our experience of the world in the digital era? We will consider our changing reading practices, the politics of digital participation across social media platforms, the performance of online identities, and new challenges to our understanding of reality to critically examine how we engage with multi-media culture.
People call movies like Avatar (dir. James Cameron) (2009) “epics.” Do post-modern movies like Avatar mimic the ancient Greek poet Homer’s pre-modern epic, the Odyssey? What can we learn about any nation’s interests and concerns today from its engagement with the masterpieces of either its own tradition or with other traditions from a different time and place? How do the world’s literatures circulate around the globe? In Comparative Literature 60A, we will read some of the greatest texts of World Literature – from the ancient Greek, Argentine, English, French-Caribbean, German, Irish, Nigerian, Persian, and U.S. traditions – in dialogue with one another as a way of answering these questions. Texts will include the poems of the 14th century Persian poet and mystic Hafiz in various translations and as they were read by the 19th century German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; the Persian poet Firdowsi’s 10th century epic, the Shahnameh, and its afterlife in miniature illustrations, oral recitations in coffee houses, and re-significations as Iran’s national epic; the British medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century Canterbury Tales as they have been taken up by the British-Nigerian rapper and performance artist Patience Agbabi (b. 1965); the ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles’ Antigone (442 b.c.e.) as it is retold in Argentine playwright Griselda Gambaro’s Antígona Furiosa play (1986); Sophocles’ Philoctetes (409 b.c.e.) as it dialogues with Irish playwright Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy (1990 /1991) and the U.S poet Adrienne Rich’s “Twenty One Love Poems” (1974-76);  Euripides’ Bacchae (405 b.c.e.) in conversation with Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka’s The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite (1973), and Shakespeare’s Tempest (1611) in dialogue with French Caribbean writer Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest (1969) and as it was performed by inmates at the Luther Luckett Correctional  Complex in La Grange, Kentucky, in 2005.  - These dialogues will help us understand the many ways that the traditions we study can have multiple afterlives across traditions and around the world.

Comparative Literature 60A is the first quarter of the “World Literature” track in the Comp. Lit. major, but the course is open to all students. It fulfills the GE IV and VIII campus-wide requirements.

Requirements for this course include: Doing the assigned readings, watching the lecture videos, watching supplemental (not optional) videos, Quizzes, Discussion Board posts on the readings, and Workshop Exercises on the readings. There is no midterm and no final in this course.
The term ‘Globalization’ was rarely used until about 1990. By now, a quarter century later, the term is used widely in the social sciences as much as in studies of culture, literature, film, media, ecology the arts and so on. What was new in the world that accounts for this sudden popularization of this concept?

It is also true, though, that the United States has been the world’s most globalized country in its very formation, with settlers and slaves arriving in the earliest phase, followed by migrants and refugees from all corners of the world. ‘Globalization’ can then be seen not as not just a recent phenomenon but as something much older that begins with the beginning of Europe’s world-wide colonial expansion several centuries ago.

The course will be structured along these two emphases: (1) the historical processes that account for long-term but very unequal social, cultural and economic integration of the world across continents; and (2) the historical changes unfolding very rapidly over the past few decades. Globalization is thus seen not as a static contemporary condition but a dynamic process involving continuous change.
This course on re-imagining the classics will explore how and why the classics have been retold, reformed, invoked, reinterpreted, and received from antiquity to the present day. We will use the mythological figure of Medea as our case study. Beginning with some theoretical orientation and reading Euripides’ Medea, we will survey the various literary versions of the myth in Roman literature. In the latter part of the course, we will turn to Medea’s place in modern and contemporary literature, theater, and film. While discussing the various reinterpretations and reinventions of Medea, we will remain mindful of issues of intertextuality. How for instance, do later versions of the myth engage with and prefigure earlier works? How might contemporary media reflect upon and suggest new meanings for their classical source texts? The methods and approaches used in this course should provide a model with which to approach other mythological, literary, aesthetic, and philosophical topics in classics and beyond.
The border of land and sea is a key scene of climate change. Slight changes at this margin have large consequences. Indeed, if the largeness of the consequences is hard to fathom, this may be partly because the changes are so slight when measured against the vastness of the ocean. Even in the age now commonly called “the anthropocene,” when capitalist production fundamentally alters the ocean’s basic conditions, threatening all of the life forms it supports, the ocean remains in some part unfathomable. This course gathers literary and visual resources for thinking about climate change from the point of view of the edge of the still unfathomable ocean, which remains strangely stable, even in the worst-case scenarios. Reading and viewing will include Native American, ancient Near Eastern, and ancient Greek flood myths; historical writing by Michelet; fictional writing by Jules Verne; nature writing by Rachel Carson; theoretical writing and photography by Alan Sekula; selected surrealist and proto-surrealist poems; selected early cinematic representations (Williamson, Marey, and Méliès); selected later cinematic representations (The Endless Summer, The Big Blue, and an ocean disaster movie tbd); and selected televisual and journalistic representations of recent disasters. This is a lot, but care will be taken to keep reading and viewing assignments manageable, partly in order to open up time and space for exercises in viewing and writing about the coastal environment of Orange and Los Angeles counties. The course will be taught entirely in English, but, upon agreement with the instructor, French majors who do the writing and the relevant reading in French may count the course as taken in French.
In The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016), Amitav Ghosh raises the question about the role of literature and the arts in facing processes of climate change and environmental degradation and the increased perception of fragility of the world. How, he asks, do the forms and genres we have inherited limit our capacity to engage with phenomena that seem too improbable or unthinkable, too other-worldly or uncanny, or which simply belong to time-scales so vast that we don't have the means to handle them? Starting with Ghosh’s question, this course will explore the representational and conceptual challenges presented by environmental and material processes that fall outside the scope and scale of our practices of representation and how artistic practices might help rework the perceptual and conceptual habits that have dominated our relationship to our environment. Our main theoretical texts will be Ghosh and Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, but we will also read a series of novels from around the world as well as examples of visual culture (films, photographs and other artistic exhibits).